Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fr. Michael's "How to be Happy" list

Recently I have noticed lists going around the social media-sphere regarding how to cultivate happiness in life.  I have decided to jump on the bandwagon.  Here is my list as of August 27, 2014 in no particular order.  What would be on your list?
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Smile and laugh.
  • Say “Thank you.”
  • Pet and speak to dogs, cats and animals you may come across.
  • Feed the birds.
  • Go outside when you can.
  • Use natural sunlight as much as possible.
  • Hum or whistle. 
  • Say “yes” when you can, say “no” when it is appropriate.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Stand straight.
  • Be curious – ask questions.
  • Read.
  • Always learn.
  • Enjoy friends.     
  • Pray.
  • Exercise but don’t care about how you look.
  • Eat well.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Read the Bible and talk with God. 
  • Talk with the elderly, hold babies and play with children.
  • Plant and tend something.
  • Notice the poor, care about others and help them as you are able.
  • Recognize that you are only asked to do what you can and leave the rest to God and others.    

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thoughts on the Sunday readings: "Who do you say that I am?" (Twenty-First Sunday - A)

The Gospel passage we have heard (Mt. 16:13-20) is known as “the text regarding the primacy of Peter.” Yet, it is a Gospel passage that goes well beyond the theological debates of Peter’s primacy and questions the faith of each one of us. 

There are a number of lessons to be learned from today's gospel.  As we reflect on this passage it is helpful to recognize the context in which it occurs.  After feeding the multitude and curing many people our Lord finds himself practically alone.  The crowd seems to be present when there is the possibility of healing from illness and when there is food to be had but then the crowd dwindles.  In a sense, our Lord, in this passage is left almost defeated.  After having so many people around and trying to make them into the People of God, he is now left alone - only with his small group of disciples.  Here is an important point to remember - the ways of God are not our ways.  God will not force his Kingdom.  Christ will usher in the Kingdom of God not through our world's understanding of power, success and accomplishment but according to God's terms nor will Christ usher in the Kingdom by seeking to cater to our every whim or entertain us with the latest fade.  Christ will always be authentic to himself, the Kingdom and the will of the Father. 

So, after the crowds have dwindled away, our Lord turns to this small and less-than-perfect grouping of disciples and asks, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  Then, he looks directly to them and asks, "Who do you say that I am?"  Our Lord is seeking to move this small band of followers beyond the limits of the world's thought (in this case, the awaited messiah as a military leader and conqueror) into the truth of the Kingdom of God.  Will they be able to follow a crucified Messiah?  If they are to be his disciples they must begin to grasp the ways and the movements of God's Kingdom.  

Peter, speaking for the community of disciples, responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father."  There is an important spiritual lesson here - Peter was not perfect when he made this proclamation of truth.  In fact, in the very next chapter Peter rebukes our Lord and is himself reprimanded.  "Get behind me Satan!  You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do!"  The lesson is this: in the life of faith it is more important to cling to Jesus rather than to seek to make ourselves perfect in the hopes of winning his acknowledgement and love or (another temptation) to present ourselves as perfect in the eyes of others.  (Christians who pretend to be perfect are like church buildings that have no windows; there might be a nice fa├žade outside but within there is no light, no grace.)  We forget this all the time.  We want to have everything "perfect" - nice and neat - before we invite Jesus in.  Jesus does not expect everything to be perfect.  He just wants to be invited in!  Just let him in and then, by his presence, all will begin to be healed!

When we allow Jesus in, when, in our heart, we are able to proclaim, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God…," we gain the true power of the keys of the Kingdom - the power to "loose" and to "bind".  With Christ present, we gain the ability to loosen the bonds that hold us tight to our selfishness, our own love of self, our hurts, our petty indifferences and grudges.  These are the bonds that make us violent and like a slave.  When we let Christ in we learn to bind ourselves to that which gives true life - friendship, solidarity, integrity and service.  We bind ourselves to the ways of the Kingdom. 

In and through Christ, whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven.  Whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven

“Who do you say that I am?” is not some intellectual exercise that our Lord throws out there to test us.  Rather, it is an invitation which our Lord extends to each one of us.  It is an invitation to welcome Christ ever anew into our lives and into our hearts, that we might know life and become life for others. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thoughts on the Sunday readings: "...but all we have" (Eighteenth Sunday - A)

“…dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”  (Mt. 14:13-21)  It is a reasonable request, even considerate but God’s Kingdom is about more than our sense of propriety.  Christ wants to bring his disciples into a fuller way of viewing situations and living in our world.  “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” 
Christ knows that there is no one so poor that they cannot give something.  It is not so much the quantity of giving that matters as it is the quality of giving.  “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”  “Bring them here to me,” responds our Lord.  
We look at the violence and pain in our world, maybe even in our own lives, we look at the isolation, the fear and the hatred, we consider our own weaknesses, maybe our own sense of unworthiness and it is easy to say, “But, all we have…”
There is no one so poor that they cannot give something.  
“All I have are some old clothes and some used furniture.”  Well, for a week now I have watched cars and trucks deliver such items to our parish life center to the point where the space now looks like a department store.  I am told that for five hours next Saturday in a chaotic frenzy of shopping thousands will be raised to support ministries within our parish and local community, especially those that will aid the poor.  “All I have is some free time,” but in that little time communion and companionship can be brought to a sick or elderly brother or sister.  “All I have is a desire to live the faith and share the faith.”  Our young people need mentors and teachers; people willing to demonstrate what it looks like to be a Christian in our world today.  We see the violence and injustice in our world, we might even experience it or witness it firsthand; all we might have is the ability to not cooperate in this, walk away, and maybe even speak a word of truth and love.  We see a brother or sister in pain, all we might have is the ability to listen.    
“But all we have…”  “Bring them here to me,” says our Lord.  There is no one so poor that they cannot give something.  
For full disclosure I must admit that even though I shared about next Saturday’s parish rummage sale and all the good it does, I am going to be out of town when the chaos occurs.  It is not intentional, although I must admit I am not necessarily heart-broken.  Next weekend I will be in South Bend, Indiana to witness a wedding.  The groom is a friend of mine from the Boston Community of Sant’Egidio.  He is at Notre Dame finishing up his doctoral studies in Scripture.  The bride works at a Christian Community Development Corporation.  The reason I share about them is that in our last discussion they said that, even though they do not have much, they want their wedding and their marriage to be an expression of God’s love in our world.  “All we have is our love and our faith,” they are saying.  “Bring them here to me,” our Lord responds.  Christ will bless what they have to offer and my hunch is that our Lord will bring life to many through the love of Brian and Beth.  
Our Lord invites us to look in a different way at the very real problems and pains of our world and our lives.  It is very easy to look at the immensity of it all and throw up our hands and say, “But all we have…”  Our Lord says, “But you do have something, bring it here to me.”  
There is no one so poor that they cannot give something.  And in giving, life is found.      

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thoughts on the Sunday readings: Choices and Consequences (Seventeenth Sunday - A)

Yes, we are free to make our choices but no one of us is free to deny the consequences of our choices.  We like the first part but we often do our best, individually and collectively, to deny the reality of the second half.  But all choices have consequences whether for good or for ill, whether immediate or some time “down the road”.  No person can escape the consequences of his or her actions. 

The key, for the person of faith, is to not only to choose for the Kingdom in a particular circumstance but to also develop the ingrained habit/discipline of choosing for the Kingdom.  I think that our choices are at the heart of the images that our Lord gives us regarding our relation to the kingdom of heaven in this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 13:44-52).
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a “treasure buried in a field” which, when once found, a person then sells all that he has in order to buy the field.  Or the kingdom is like a fine pearl which, again, a person goes and sells all that he has in order to buy it.  In both of these images the person makes a radical and extreme choice.  They sell everything, they let go off everything in order to acquire this one treasure!  Nothing is more important.  Reputation, security, wealth, relationships, advancement – they just don’t compare.  They do not matter in light of this one great treasure!
This is the choice for the Kingdom of God and there are consequences. 
…the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea … what is good (goes into buckets). What is bad is thrown away.  Thus it will be at the end of the age. 
All choices have consequences.  When we make the choice for the Kingdom, for God, for what is right – even if in the most trying of circumstances, even if not applauded but derided, even if in the face of persecution – we gain life.  The life of the Kingdom of God grows within us.  
In our first reading (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12) Solomon was also faced with a choice.  God says to the young king, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  Solomon could have asked for anything and God knows this.  Solomon, aware of his role as a young king, asks, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and distinguish right from wrong.”  Solomon is blessed in his choice because he made a choice for the Kingdom of God.  He did not choose for himself – to build up his ego, his wealth or his power – rather, he made a choice for others – he asked for wisdom that he might serve and govern God’s people well and justly.  In so doing, Solomon mirrored the reality of God who is love who pours himself out for all of his creation and Solomon was blessed.  Life grew within him.
Yes, we are free to make our choices but no one of us is free to deny the consequences of our choices.  Our choices can help, our choices can heal!  Our Lord invites us to continually, in all situations and seasons, make the choice for the kingdom - that we might be blessed and have life within us and that his kingdom might continually grow in order to heal the pains and wounds of our world. 
The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request and said to him, “Because you have asked for this – not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you might know what is right – I do as you requested.”          

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Sunday readings: The Grain, the Weeds and Tobit (Sixteenth Sunday - A)

This last week I read a book entitled, Tobit’s Dog written by Michael N. Richard.  The book is a retelling of the Book of Tobit set in the segregated South of the Depression era.  The Book of Tobit (not found in Protestant Bibles) is, in many ways, a reflection on sin, suffering and the question of why troubles come upon us.  Even if one does not go looking for trouble it seems that troubles will often come looking for us in life.  Why is this?  One thing that the Book of Tobit reveals is that even though God does not send troubles our way; God is willing to aid and help us learn from the troubles that we do encounter in life.  
At one point in the story the young Tobias is wondering about these matters while he and the archangel Raphael (going by the name “Ace Redbone” – a travelling musician) are on journey.  At this point, Ace offers some wise advice, “Tobias, life will have no happily ever after until that day when Heaven merges completely with the created world around us.” 
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 13:24-43), our Lord gives us three images of the Kingdom of God – the grain growing alongside the weeds, the growing mustard seed and the active yeast.  What is helpful is recognizing that all of these three images are in process, they are active.  We are on journey toward the Kingdom of God, we are not there yet, and not only that but all creation is also on journey toward the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  Last Sunday, in his Letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:18-23) St. Paul wrote, I consider that the sufferings of the present life cannot be compared with the Glory that will be revealed and given to us.  All creation is eagerly expecting the birth in glory of the children of God.  The resurrection, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is active; it is transforming us and all of creation also! 
“Tobias, life will have no happily ever after until that day when Heaven merges completely with the created world around us.” 
We are on journey.  In this life there will be no ultimate “happily ever after” no matter the messages we are sold.  There will be troubles but we can learn from the troubles of life and we can praise God even in the midst of them.  One truth to be gained from the parable of the grain and weeds, I believe, is that we should not be frightened by the fact that an evil plant grows rather, what truly counts on our part, is to make the good plant grow as much as possible.  
If we, in our lifetime, can help to make the Kingdom of God grow even to the smallest fraction then we have done well. 
God is bringing about his Kingdom.  We are on journey.       

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thoughts on the Sunday readings: The Generosity is God's (Fifteenth Sunday-A)

In today’s Gospel (Mt. 13:1-23), the disciples ask the Lord why he speaks to the people in parables.  It is a fair question and one that can help us get at the heart of what a parable is meant to be about and meant to do.  A parable is not a set of engineering manuals which yield precise directions and formulations once we figure out the proper “code”.  Rather, a parable is better viewed as an invitation to a grand feast.  It is an entrance into which we are called to enter and it is then in the context of this “feast” that life is found - we encounter others, relationships are born or nourished and all of a sudden there are new insights or possibilities gained that we could never have predicted.  A parable is a living reality that we are meant to enter into, move about and even sit within, which then brings us insight into how to live Christian discipleship more deeply and truly.  A parable does not need to explain itself and neither are we meant to pry and wring truths out of parables by our own effort.  Parables speak.  We are to listen. 
Through this Sunday’s parable of the sower and the seed our Lord is inviting us into the mystery of encounter with himself (which occurs according to our Lord’s own generosity) and the mystery of keeping our hearts open and cultivated because we know neither the time nor the hour. 
Our gospel parable might be fleshed out more by the use of another parable – a commercial put out a while back by Catholic Charities in the Philippines.  In the commercial a businessman enters into a crowded subway.  He is hurrying to work and is carrying his sack lunch for the day.  He notices a homeless man sitting on the ground in a corner of the station.  The man is dirty and obviously in need.  At first the businessman makes to walk past him but then he stops, walks over the homeless man and gives him his lunch.  
Now, a second scene – the next day – once more the businessman enters the station carrying his lunch.  Again, he sees the homeless man.  He tries to walk by but his conscience will not allow him.  He heads over and gives the man his lunch but things change and instead of seeing the face of the homeless man the businessman sees the face of Christ.
A third scene - this time from the viewpoint of the homeless man sitting in the station.  We see the businessman coming forward to give his lunch but now it is the businessman’s face that changes and in its place the homeless man sees the face of Christ. 
In both the commercial and the parable we are invited into the great feast of Christian giving and receiving and encountering Christ within that living dynamic. 
It has been pointed out that an aspect of the parable of the sower and the seed is the almost remarkable carelessness of the sower.  This is not a farmer who has to have perfect soil for his supply of seeds!  
Without saying it, Jesus is comparing the sower to himself.  His generosity in sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours.  The sower does not calculate nor measure his generosity … there is no part of the soil that he does not consider worthy of attention. (Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia)
At the heart of the mystery of encountering Christ and experiencing the Kingdom is a gratuitousness that can neither be programmed nor predicted on our part.  The generosity is God’s and not ours.  One factor of note though in this mystery is the condition of the inner terrain of our hearts and the need of being “good soil”.  This is important as the parable teaches us that the sower can sow at any time and in any circumstance – from a church pew on Sunday to a busy subway station during the week.  The generosity is God’s and not our own. 
The power of the Catholic Charities commercial is that it does not need to explain anything.  It just portrays a moment and it that moment the man’s heart was good soil.  He made a decision and in that decision the Kingdom was able to break through and each recognized the face of Christ in the other.
God’s generosity is sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Eucharist and the Burning Bush of Exodus: Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Recently, Pope Francis offered these words during his Sunday Angelus address. 
Every Sunday we go to Mass, we celebrate the Eucharist together and the Eucharist is like the ‘burning bush’ in which the Trinity humbly dwells and communicates itself: this is why the Church has placed the feast of the Body of the Lord after that of the Trinity.

The Holy Father has given us some wonderful images to reflect upon on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (traditionally known as Corpus Christi). 
If we look to the third chapter of Exodus (verses 1-6) we read of Moses’ encounter with God revealed in the burning bush.
Meanwhile Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb.   There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush.   When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. So Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush; “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God said: “Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground!”   “I am the God of your father, he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 
We are told that Moses wonders why the bush is not consumed and only after he decides to “turn aside and look” does God speak to him.  God waits for the moment when we are ready for him to speak to us.  We, for our part, must learn how to “turn aside” from all that distracts us, from the illusions, sad logic and passing fancies of our world in order to then be ready to encounter God.  God is present and is waiting to reveal himself if we just turn aside to look.  In the Eucharist – celebrated on the altar, reserved in the tabernacle – the fullness of Christ is present.  On every altar during the celebration of the Eucharist and in every tabernacle we can say that the burning bush is present waiting for us to just turn aside and look. 
The bush was not consumed.  God is not opposed to creation nor limited as creation is limited.  The presence of God does not negate my freedom nor does it negate my possibility.  God is not simply another actor within creation whose very presence necessarily limits my own space.  God is rather the source of all creation, the one who is pure love and who is non-competitive with his creation.  Christ is fully present within the Eucharist.  The bread and wine truly becomes the body and blood of Christ yet it is neither consumed nor lost.  When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we also are neither consumed nor lost nor oppressed; rather we are transformed into the very thing which we consume.  Through the presence of God, we are fulfilled. 
“Remove your sandals from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy ground!”  The Eucharist is holy.  This is why we reverence it, adore it, place it in a special place of reservation and come before it in prayer.  Our sandals are what carry us through our day-in and day-out lives.  Our sandals are the mundane and profane trappings of life (profane not in the sense of “anti-sacred” but rather in the sense of common and ordinary).  We are meant to remove our sandals, we are meant for more than just the ordinary!  We are meant for relationship with God!  In the Eucharist we meet Christ, we know him and we receive him.  The fullest form of friendship and communion is given to us in the Eucharist.
“I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Just as we receive Christ in the Eucharist so do we regain ourselves.  Moses had forgotten who he was, God remembered for him.  “I am the God of your father…”  Life can wear down, confuse and distract.  We need food for the journey.  We need help remembering who we are.  In receiving the Eucharist we are reminded again of who we are – a child of God, beloved of the Father, brother and sister to Christ our Lord!  And once we encounter God and remember who we are then we are ready for mission in our world.  Moses needed to know who he was before he could ever go before Pharaoh.  The same is true for us.  Before the pharaohs of our world (violence, sin, greed and all the sad logics that seek to divide and oppress life) we need to be constantly reminded of who we are, who our brothers and sisters are and who our Father is. 
Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51)
“…the Eucharist is like the ‘burning bush’ in which the Trinity humbly dwells and communicates itself.”